In 1978 he won the Ian Whyte Award for the Orchestral work Salm, and in 1979 received the APRA Silver Scroll for his contribution to New Zealand music. His works have been recommended by the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in 1979, 1981 and 1988. Since 1985 he has been a full-time composer based in Edinburgh. In 1989 his 'Speak for us, great sea' was performed at the BBC Proms, London, and 'Dragspil, concerto for accordion', was commissioned for the Proms in 1995.
He was artistic director of the Edinburgh Contemporary Arts Trust’s New Zealand, New Music festivals in Edinburgh (1998 and 2001). In 2001 he received a prestigious Scottish Arts Council ‘Creative Scotland Award’.
In 2002 he was awarded an honorary D.Mus degree by Victoria University of Wellington, and the inaugural Elgar Bursary. He was 2006/07 New Zealand School of Music/Creative New Zealand Composer in Residence in Wellington.
Lyell Cresswell’s music is widely performed. He has been a featured composer at many festivals around the world and in New Zealand. These include the Lyell Cresswell is Fifty Festival at the Tramway, Glasgow 1994 and Lyell Cresswell at 60 in Edinburgh in 2004.
In 2017, there was the first performances of two major works: his Clarinet Concerto, Llanto, and second piano concerto. 'Llanto' was commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra for performance with the soloist Maximiliano Martín. The review in the Glasgow Herald read "COMPOSER Lyell Cresswell must be thrilled. The applause after the premier of his new Clarinet Concerto, Llanto, commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, was one of the most generous for a contemporary work." His Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra, Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig, was commissioned by Michael Houstoun (another Arts Laureate) and first performed by him with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in October 2017. Also in October a new CD of piano music and songs, The Art of Black and White, was released by Rattle Records, A new CD of my music for string quartet, played by the Red Note Ensemble, is due for a 2018 release by Delphian Records.
Previous works include:
A Cello Concerto (1984), commissioned by Musica Nova,
A Modern Ecstasy (1985), commissioned anonymously
Ylur (1991), commissioned for the St. Magnus Festival
Concerto for Orchestra and String Quartet (1996), commissioned by the City of Aberdeen
Kaea, trombone concerto (1997)
Of Smoke and Bickering Flame (2001/2) commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra,
The Voice Inside, Concerto for Violin, Soprano and Orchestra (2001), commissioned by the BBC
Alas! How Swift, commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Canterbury Rhymes, commissioned by the Christchurch Symphony
The Perfect Woman, commissioned by Scottish Opera.
A CD of orchestral music played by the NZSO has been released by NAXOS.